Dogs with Wings

Learned Vol. 2, Issue 4

When I was in junior high school, the youth ministers at the local churches put a bit of pressure on us kids to replace our rock and rap collections with Christian rock bands. For the most part, the youth ministers' hearts were in the right place and, for the most part, we were good kids, so we...well, we didn't replace our collections, but we added the occasional Christian rock or rap band to them.

I had a hard time with most of it. It's not that these acts weren't good musically, because they were - or at least they were no worse than all the other hair metal and pop acts that were popular at the time - it's just that they weren't very much fun. I was getting deeper and deeper into punk; punk itself was in the midst of an identity crisis with self-seriousness and earnest rebellion giving way to ironic, sneering, pun-filled music of grunge.

But there were exceptions. One Bad Pig got me. They smashed their guitars on stage, they raised a commotion at every tour stop, they embraced chaos and noise and called it exultation. I could get behind that. In 1990, OBP released a record called Swine Flew containing the lyric, in the song of the same name:

You'd have to see it to believe but still God's Word is true,

Swine flew, swine flew

Later in the song, singer Carey Womack compares himself to a pig. Contrary to the usual meaning behind phrases featuring pigs flying, Womack uses it to invoke an inevitability, suggesting that because of God's love, he will be the one flying. I liked the subversion of that idea and kept the song in my playlists even while I grew further and further from the church.

A couple of years later, in 1994, Tom Petty released his landmark Wildflowers album which contained the track, It's Good to Be King. Although a much more sincere and sentimental song than Swine Flew, Petty subverts the flying pigs trope in a different way - he gets rid of the pigs.

Yeah, I'll be king when dogs get wings

Can I help it if I still dream time to time

I kind of love that. Something about changing pig to dog brings a new sense of wistfulness to the phrase. Originally, the use of pigs flying to mean something that would never, or could never happen was contained in the phrase, "Pigs fly with their tails forward." In other words, not only was it improbable, it was being done wrong. Dogs, on the other hand, are loyal, hard-working, and faithful.

Consider it this way: To be a flying pig is to be a pig who has managed to do something impossible but to be a flying dog is to be forever chasing something or someone who has left you behind.

The variance between those two ideas - the pig and the dog - culminates, for me, with Porco Rosso. Porco is a man, a pilot, whose boorish actions result in his literal transformation into a pig. Yet it is in his pig-headed loyalty and dogged devotion to his love where he finds redemption. To Porco, a pig flying is nothing to remark upon, but the grace with which he does so is everything: "a pig that doesn't fly is nothing but a pig." I dig that.

Not for nothing, but in the course of researching this entry, I came across the Dogs with Wings foundation - they’re a charity who works to place assistance dogs to people who really need them. If you’re able, maybe consider a donation?

“Pigs might fly.”


Collins Cobuild Idioms Dictionary (Third Edition, 2012):

People say pigs might fly to mean that something that has just been mentioned is very unlikely to happen.

People say that something will happen or be done when pigs fly to mean that in reality, it will never happen or be done.

People often vary this expression.

The Facts on File Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Fourth Edition, 2008):

and pigs have wings! Used sarcastically as one would say yeah or sure, both expressing disbelief. The British say and pigs fly! instead, but their expression when pigs fly! means “never.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997):

Never, as in Sure he'll pay for the drinks?

When pigs fly. Equating the flight of pigs with something impossible dates from the early 1600s, when several writers alleged that pigs fly with their tails forward. The idiom is also put as pigs may fly.


The original version of the succinct 'pigs might fly' was 'pigs fly with their tails forward', which is first found in a list of proverbs in the 1616 edition of John Withals's English-Latin dictionary - A Shorte Dictionarie for Yonge Begynners: “Pigs fly in the ayre with their tayles forward.”

This form of the expression was in use for two hundred years as a sarcastic rejoinder to any overly optimistic prediction made by the gullible, much as we now use "...and pigs might fly".

Classification: Adynaton


The phrase "when pigs fly" (alternatively, "pigs might fly") is an adynaton—a figure of speech so hyperbolic that it describes an impossibility. The implication of such a phrase is that the circumstances in question (the adynaton, and the circumstances to which the adynaton is being applied) will never occur. The phrase has been used in various forms since the 1600s as a sarcastic remark.

Notable Events of the year 1616

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A list of lists concentrated upon all things porcine.

Next Time: Me, myself, and I. That’s it. Stay strong, stay curious. Learn something.